Emails indicate Susan Hunt agreed to settlement she says she rejected
SALT LAKE CITY — Evidence unsealed in federal court documents on Wednesday, including numerous emails, appear to show that Susan Hunt once agreed to a $900,000 settlement with Saratoga Springs in her civil lawsuit against the city over the 2014 police shooting death of her son, Darrien Hunt.
Hunt has previously claimed she rejected the settlement offer the moment she heard about it.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell ruled that Hunt had relinquished her attorney-client privilege with her former attorney, Robert Sykes, and said any correspondence between the two could be released publicly.
Darrien Hunt, 22, was shot and killed following a confrontation with two Saratoga Springs police officers. He was carrying a 3-foot souvenir katana sword when he was shot six times in the back, with most of the shots hitting him as he fled from officers.
The Utah County Attorney's Office determined the officers' actions were legally justified. In January 2015, Sykes and the Hunt family filed a $2 million civil lawsuit against Saratoga Springs and the two officers, calling their use of deadly force unlawful and excessive.
In September, the lawsuit took an unexpected twist when Hunt announced she had not authorized Sykes to accept a $900,000 settlement offer, claiming it would have required her to stay quiet about the shooting. She said the money wasn't what was important to her, but rather an admission from police that the shooting was brutal, unnecessary and that her son did nothing wrong.
But according to newly unsealed emails and documents, Hunt sent an email on July 8, 2015, to Sykes stating: "I reluctantly will accept 850,000 to 900,000. Please push for as close to 1 mil as possible."
On Aug. 12, Sykes sent a follow-up email to Hunt and her sister, Cindy Moss, telling them that the settlement "will probably boil down to 1) whether you want the freedom to say what you want to say with no restrictions or 2) whether you want to settle and get the money," according to court documents.
Sykes followed up that email with a recorded phone call to Hunt on the same day to get several statements on the record.
"I've told you that the nondisparagement clause is a deal breaker for them and you told me that it was OK, you would go ahead and sign it with that clause in there, right?" Sykes asks Hunt, according to the transcript filed in federal court.
"Susan: 'Yeah.' Bob: 'OK, that's a yeah?' Susan: 'Yes.' Bob: 'Say it louder.' Susan: 'I will sign. Yes,'" the transcript states.
During the same phone conversation, Sykes asks Hunt if she is available to sign the agreement the following day, at which time a press release would be issued, the transcript stated.
"Bob: 'In other words, you will hold your nose to sign it, right?' Susan: 'Yes.' Bob: 'Now don't get upset, OK? I want you to be happy. This is a good settlement. Be happy, OK?' Susan: 'I'm trying.'"
Sykes said Hunt later sent him a text asking him if he thought she could afford a $250,000 house, according to court documents.
But on Aug. 20, Sykes received an email from Hunt stating, "To whom this concerns, I will not sign this (expletive) document releasing Saratoga Springs and the murdering cops ," the documents state.
On Aug. 25, Sykes sent an email to Hunt saying he felt like he somehow disappointed and lost a good friend and wanted to set things right.
"I wanted to try to offer an olive branch and an apology, if I did something wrong. You did accept my recommendation that the case be settled for $900,000. We thereafter went forward on that, and formally accepted their offer to settle for $900,000, with your approval. All that remained was to sign the release. We sat in my office and went through it, and again, you agreed," Sykes wrote.
Moss said Wednesday her sister “was interested in settling,” but ultimately couldn’t live with the requirements of the nondisparagement clause.
"She had to say that the police were right, Darrien was wrong, that they didn't even shoot him when he was on the ground. Things we knew were a lie,” she said.
Moss criticized Saratoga Springs for putting Hunt in the moral dilemma in the first place by requiring a dishonest nondisparagement clause.
"It's a horrible, horrific thing for any mom to have to put a number value on (someone) killing (their) son," she said.
Addressing Hunt's question to Sykes about buying a new house, Moss said her sister needed a change of scenery away from a neighborhood where her son was killed and where many are hostile to her because of the controversy surrounding his death.
"We all wanted Susan to be able to get out of Saratoga Springs,” Moss said. "It's a nightmare for her to have to live there, right where her son was killed, the only shopping center in the area.”
In a separate motion, Hunt claims she shouldn't have to pay Sykes for his representation. Sykes said her motion did not accurately reflect the work he did for Hunt and damaged his reputation.
In his response unsealed on Wednesday, Sykes said Hunt's motion is full of "false statements, scandalous allegations, and personal invective," and said he didn't even know where to begin with his response. "There is nothing true in this opposition (motion) that makes a difference. It is 100 percent erroneous."
Sykes also included Facebook posts and other social media messages from Hunt supporters who claimed he was trying to make Hunt take a discount settlement.
Saratoga Springs has asked a federal judge to force Hunt to take the agreement that it claims she consented to.
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